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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Just Trailblazers on the Road to Independence

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Ever wondered who was behind the civil wars in the Caucasus in the early 1990s? It seems that Satan was the mastermind, or at least according to the dapper-looking gent who approached me at an outdoor cafe in Abkhazia last week. I must admit that I started to doubt his judgment a little when he went on to say that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was a robot programmed by his predecessor, Eduard Shevardnadze, to carry on his evil works.

Nevertheless, the landscape of Abkhazia, the Black Sea region that has been trying to break away from Georgia since the war of the early 1990s, looks like it's been through hell. Many homes are still abandoned after a quarter of a million Georgians fled the fighting. Buildings are pockmarked by rocket fire or smashed to rubble. The capital, Sukhumi, was a rather grand resort in Soviet times, but even though the war ended over a decade ago, it looks as though the ceasefire began last week.

I was there for the recent parliamentary elections, which Abkhaz separatist ministers told me represented another step toward the region's recognition as an independent state. The Abkhaz authorities were excited that what they described as "international observers" had arrived to pronounce the elections free and fair. But these, of course, weren't from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which usually prowls the polling stations in former Soviet republics. As no country in the world recognizes Abkhazia, the OSCE skipped the vote and condemned it from afar.

Instead, the observers were a motley crew who seemed to be happy that the Abkhaz elections were a poke in the eye for the West and its regional ally, Georgia, as well as deputies in the Russian State Duma, which has never been slow to voice its support for republics with breakaway ambitions -- as long as they aren't Russian regions.

At a restaurant after the polls closed, a few observers were already deep into vodka bottles, toasting Abkhazia's right to choose its own destiny, as if their testimony would make much difference. One particularly enthusiastic imbiber screamed: "Free Abkhazia! Free South Ossetia! And free Wallonia!" although his hosts appeared a bit bemused at the linking of Abkhazia's fate to that of the French-speaking part of Belgium. Another young observer, with wine pouring down his clothes as he gesticulated wildly with his glass, declared through his hiccups that the Abkhaz elections would not only bring independence, but change the entire face of Europe. The Abkhaz officials smiled, but it wasn't clear whether they were having doubts about the kind of people on whom they'd placed their hopes.

Matthew Collin is a Tbilisi-based journalist.